Graduation Speech by Valeria Guerra member of the Student Association Council
Thank you Professor Gaeta. Professors, teaching assistants, staff, distinguished guests, relatives, friends and fellow graduates.
It is a great honor for me to be here today representing such an outstanding group of graduates to speak on behalf of you all in this very special occasion. As a former president of the Students body, I would like to congratulate you all for having obtained the LL.M. diploma in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. First of all, members of the Geneva Academy Class of 2012, give yourselves a round of applause.
We are gathered here today to celebrate the end of a stage in our academic and professional life. After a year of endless hours of reading at the library, lectures, seminars, internships and preparation of papers, which all of them are still fresh in our minds, this is a night which represents the culmination of a great deal of effort and an entrant to a profession that we will continue building on expertise and knowledge.
A new beginning, a new path is about to start. I think I speak for the entire cohort of graduates in saying that today is truly an occasion of mixed emotions.
Today is our last day as a class. This will be our last time altogether. As painful as it might seem, this is part of growing up. Just watching people these past days, I have noticed how much tighter you hug people when you are not sure when you will see them again. Of course we might be back for lectures, seminars, conferences and alumni events. But we will not be sharing anymore the same classes, the same tutorials, the same professors, the same expectations, the same fears, the same happiness. Instead, we will be sharing professional and personal achievements, ideals, dreams and the willingness to work for peace, justice and human rights, defending the core values of humankind.
It is now the time to bring back many fond memories of our year in the Academy.
If we look back to our first time in Villa Moynier, September 5th of 2011, where we met our professors and our fellow students, it does not seem that long ago right? We walked around looking at everything in awe. It was not easy to be at a place as significant as Villa Moynier is for International Law and talk to distinguished professors in this field.
Think about your first impressions, your feelings, how nervous you were talking to eminent professors of International Law whose books you have read and who you
admire even before coming here. Since then, you came a long way from scared students to confident graduates.
Having had twenty seven countries from the five continents represented in our class, gave us the opportunity to learn about different cultures and traditions. It made us realize how many things we have in common even coming from different places all over the world. We were a community diverse in thought and background: the kind of terrain that is never easy to navigate. Nevertheless, the eagerness to learn from each other’s cultures brought us closer together. We were not only friends but also a family away from home. I think I speak on behalf of everybody by saying that Geneva would have never been the same without all of you.
We had so much fun together. Let me remind you the Halloween Party, the Latin American Party, the Christmas party, Mid-sommer, Alumni event and the unforgettable after exams “try to release the pressure” party.
In addition, we explored gastronomic pleasures of many countries. We ate Italian pizza, Ethiopian angira(ingeria), bosnian uchtipsi, american mac and cheese, Mexican tacos, French tarte de pommes, Argentinian dulce de leche, Colombian arepas, Swedish schnapps and “tasty and not smelly” surstroming fish, Australian vegemite delicatessen and of course a lot a Swiss cheese and Belgian chocolate.
How can we forget the two day road trip to Sarajevo or the trip to the Hague?
Both were valuable experiences for us, a possibility to take the law out of the books and apply it to reality. Moreover, it was an opportunity to get to know each other better.
So many anecdotes we will be treasured in our memory!!!
This year in the Academy, could not have been as interesting and as inspiring without the eminent professors and excellent teaching assistants that we had. Every class was a great learning experience that we will never forget. I would like to take this opportunity to thank every one of you for teaching us, for challenging us, for making us better professionals and last but not least for inspiring us all. Teaching with such passion, inspired and invited us to work even harder and give our best. We really tried hard to be at the levels of your expectations. Greatness stands from great teachings and even greater people.
As part of this great people, we should mention the TAs. Those persons that prepared us for exams, pointed us the right direction and listened to us in our pre-exams panic attacks. Some of them abandoned us during the year, was it because of us? We are grateful with the ones that left and the ones that stayed, because one of the things that they have in common, apart from being TAs, is the dedication, the passion and knowledge they have shared with us.
On a funny note, let’s not forget our animal friends that were part of our year such as polar bears, panther principles and zebras codes, among others.
All of the aforementioned roughly summarized what we have experienced this year. I leave the rest to your memory. In words of William Wordsworth “We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind;”
As one door closes, another opens. It is time to talk about our future. The one that for many might not seem really clear right now. Do not worry, things will get better. You have the skills to achieve your goals. Believe in yourselves.
As you know, there is a lot to be done in this field. The Geneva Academy provided us with the necessary intellectuals’ tools to make a change possible. It is up to us now to make it happen.
Being professors, human rights defenders, judges, legal advisors, international lawyers, you can work for Human Rights values to be respected and for making changes possible. It will not be an easy task, as Professor Marco Sassoli kindly reminded us of Jean Giraudoux’s words “No poet ever interpreted nature as freely as a lawyer interprets the truth”. With this power of interpreting the law, comes a great responsibility. Therefore, be careful while applying the law to the facts. Try to always have in your minds the most important values of humankind. As the motto of the Academy says “Hominum causa omne ius constitutum est” (Law is established for the benefit of the mankind).
This might sound too idealistic for you because as lawyers we always work for a client, whoever that might be. Even then, as Mr. Herman Pfleger says in the new Brierly’s Law of Nations “You should never say no to your client when the law and your conscience say yes; but you should never, ever say yes when your law and conscience say no”
In this regard, I remember that Professor Andrew Clapham once told us the story about cold lawyers and hot lawyers. Cold lawyers find it easy to say no. Hot lawyers find a way to accomplish appropriately, and of course legally, what is in the best interest of the client. So, let’s all be hot lawyers. Let’s work to find a way to accomplish those goals properly, honorably, and obviously legally, and not to take the easy way out.
This way we can make a difference no matter who we work for, International Organizations, NGOs or governments. Do not think for a minute that as a single individual you cannot make a change because you can. In Dalai Lama’s words "If you think you're too small to make a difference, try to go to sleep with a mosquito in the room."
Just think how lucky we are today by receiving this diploma while others, both at home and abroad, are forgotten or left behind. Be they Palestinian refugees, trafficked women in Mexico, or civilians in Syria, their voices are not as loud or powerful or influential as ours, so let's not be indifferent of their fate.
To conclude, I would like to thank my graduate fellows. I know we can barely articulate how we feel but its ok because we know and that is enough.
As the Spanish poet Antonio Machado expressed in “Caminante no hay camino”/ “traveler there’s no road”:
“All goes, and all remains,
but our task is to go,
to go creating roads
roads through the sea.
Traveler, the road is only
your footprint, and no more;
traveler, there’s no road,
the road is your travelling.
Going becomes the road
and if you look back
you will see a path
none can tread again.
Traveler, every track
leaves its wake on the sea…”
So please my traveler friends keep on walking and welcoming new beginnings.